Armenia and Azerbaijan have launched negotiations on border demarcation following a trilateral meeting in Brussels with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and European Council President Charles Michel on May 23.
Pashinyan and Aliyev agreed to host the first joint meeting of the border commissions along the interstate border in the coming days during their third trilateral summit in Brussels, which Michel described as “frank and productive.”
That same day, Armenian deputy prime minister Mher Grigoryan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Shahin Mustafayev were appointed the heads of a bilateral commission on border delimitation and demarcation.
Grigoryan and Mustafayev held their first meeting on May 24 at an undisclosed location along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. They “reiterated their readiness to work on delimitation and other relevant issues, including border security issues within the commissions,” according to a statement from the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
The commission heads agreed to hold a second meeting in Moscow and a third meeting in Brussels.
Pashinyan and Aliyev previously met in Brussels on April 6 and agreed to convene a bilateral border commission by the end of April. During that meeting, Michel stressed that “ensuring the appropriate distancing of forces is an essential element of incident prevention and tensions reduction.”
The Armenian government has repeatedly called for the mutual withdrawal of troops as a precondition to border demarcation and delimitation, a condition Azerbaijan has rejected. Azerbaijan has launched consistent border attacks on Armenia and Artsakh since the end of the 44-day war in the fall of 2020.
During the May 23 meeting in Brussels, the leaders also discussed the unblocking of transit links. They agreed on “principles governing transit between western Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, and between different parts of Armenia via Azerbaijan” regarding “border administration, security, land fees but also customs in the context of international transport.” The announcement does not specify the contents of those principles.
Armenia and Azerbaijan set up a joint commission, also chaired by Grigoryan and Mustafayev, to unblock regional transport and communication channels shortly after the end of the 2020 Artsakh War. The commission has not met since December.
While briefing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Brussels meeting, Aliyev said the leaders had agreed on the opening of the Zangezur corridor.
Aliyev has repeatedly called for the creation of a land passage, which he calls the Zangezur corridor, without passport or customs controls connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through the southernmost Armenian province Syunik. The Armenian government has said that the formation of such a corridor is impermissible.
Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan denied that Pashinyan and Aliyev had agreed to establish a land corridor connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan.
“No road or transport route in the logic of a corridor can function in the territory of Armenia,” Grigoryan told Armenpress news agency, in response to a question about Aliyev’s phone call with Erdogan.
“All agreements reached in Brussels fit in the framework of the public statements made previously by representatives of Armenia,” Grigoryan continued.
Pashinyan briefed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the meeting in Brussels during a phone call the following day. He said that while the summit in Brussels was “generally positive, unfortunately comments unrelated to the content of the discussions were voiced after the meeting,” in reference to Aliyev’s mention of the Zangezur corridor.
Pashinyan and Aliyev also agreed to “advance discussions” on a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the meeting in Brussels. The leaders had expressed their “desire to move rapidly towards a peace agreement” during their previous meeting on April 6.
Michel “stressed to both leaders that it was necessary that the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh be addressed.”
Some political figures have criticized Michel for his usage of “Karabakh” as opposed to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Artsakh President spokesperson Lusine Avanesyan said that the recognition of the right to self-determination is not subject to concession.
“The international recognition of the independence of the Republic of Artsakh remains the guideline of the authorities. Any status within Azerbaijan is unacceptable,” Avanesyan told Armenpress news agency on May 23.
Former Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan also criticized the results of the meeting, stating that it ignored the “natural right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination and Azerbaijan’s genocidal policy toward Artsakh.”
“What is happening is also due the fact that the Armenian leadership has consistently nullified our basic theses of historical significance,” Tatoyan wrote on Facebook on May 23.
Levon Zurabyan, a top aide to former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, said that the announcement reveals Armenia’s new policy following Pashinyan’s call to “lower the bar” on the Artsakh issue.
“Michel’s announcement is the first announcement on an international level in which Azerbaijan’s demands are fulfilled, there is no word on the unresolved Karabakh conflict and the phrase ‘the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh’ is meant to emphasize the absence of Nagorno-Karabakh as a territorial and political unit,” Zurabyan wrote on Facebook on May 23.
“This shows that Nikol Pashinyan’s announcement on ‘lowering the bar’ on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue signaled Armenia’s new official policy, under which Armenia refuses to support the right to self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Pashinyan said that he is prepared to “lower the bar” on the status of Artsakh in a controversial speech to parliament on April 13.
“Status in the current situation is not a goal, but rather a means to guarantee the security and rights of the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh,” Pashinyan said. “We have said that Armenia has never had territorial claims on Azerbaijan and the Artsakh issue is not a matter of territory but rather a matter of rights. Therefore, we state that for Armenia security guarantees for the Armenians of Artsakh, the guarantee of their rights and freedoms and clarification of the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh are of fundamental importance.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan have each previously presented a set of issues that they want on the agenda of negotiations on a peace deal. The five points presented by Azerbaijan include mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual affirmation of the absence of territorial claims to each other and a legally binding obligation not to make such claims in the future, refraining from threatening each other’s security, delimitation and demarcation of the border and unblocking of communication and transport links. In response, Armenia has said that it accepts Azerbaijan’s proposal and has added that securing the rights and freedoms of the Armenians of Artsakh is fundamental to a peace agreement.